Lomi Lomi: Traditional vs. Contemporary | Core Spirit

Lomi lomi is considered to be a Hawaiian healing massage that gives nurturing and loving touch.

Some people find out about more modern types of lomi lomi by watching video clips, which do not provide the full essence and depth of lomi lomi healing. They have mentioned being attracted to the long, flowing strokes and the dance that seems so graceful through one of the styles being taught, often described as temple lomi.

Lomi lomi means massage or “to shift,” which may be translated by many into a range of styles and techniques. Hawaiian healing is a tradition that is handed down for generations to family (‘ohana) and differs among islands and families, many of which are still secret. This is what distinguishes the conventional type from the modern styles and other styles of massage, the essence of a culture of healing vs. a technique.

Kumu Harry Uhane Jim says one of the first cultural differences he brings to the table is, “Be quiet and listen.” He continues to say the technique is easy: You do the work, and the wisdom will come.

Contemporary, or integrative, lomi lomi trainings are taught across the planet and often don’t require the intense amount of training that is expected traditionally, in which a student might spend up to 20 years with a kumu (teacher). Some classes might only last a few days and merely touch upon this ancient healing method. While the forearm technique is attractive to many, continued studies will teach that a range of methods have been handed down through the ages. This may include spiritual wisdom, for example, ho’oponopono (a system for forgiveness that builds harmony and balance through expressing truth) as well as creating and utilizing mana (creative or life force energy).

One might find methods that are similar to oriental techniques like Thai massage or qigong that balance energy and create flow. Others might describe abdominal techniques similar to the Mayan methods or chi massage very beneficial in helping digestion and other health problems. Hawaiian healing methods use warm baths for aches, salts, steams and clays for detoxification or mineral rebalancing, similar to what we may experience today in a spa treatment without the ceremonial and sacred aspect of “holding a space” for these healing techniques.

Huge stones were also heated by the sun and rolled on the body, using methods of friction or compression. Today, we see massage therapists using hot stones in their treatments; however, what we normally do not see is wrapping noni leaves or other medicinal herbs around the stones, which is practiced traditionally.

Lomi lomi is more than technique. Handed down through the ages from family to family, it was and is a lifestyle of health and wellness, physically and spiritually. A few well-known Hawaiian healers are Auntie Margaret and Kahu Abraham who have since passed on. They chose to begin sharing some of the methods and secrets of the Hawaiian healers. Today, Kumu Harry Uhane Jim, Kumu Dane Silva and Kumu Brenda Ignacio continue to teach and share the ancient wisdom that has been passed on from their elders.

Lomi lomi requires a commitment to healing oneself, too. Student will learn more about themselves and what their purpose in life might be. They will learn how to honor and respect the earth and how to create harmony and unity in community (lokahi). The elders acknowledged and worked with the forces, God, nature and humans to bring this harmony.

Some training may include martial arts techniques, yoga, qigong, breath work, learning about nature and herbs and much more. Unlike typical massage trainings that concentrate on anatomy and technique, lomi lomi brings the practitioner to a deeper or more connected level to a spiritual side of healing work. Kumu Harry Uhane Jim says “As soon as your soul knows connection with yourself, you can offer bodywork as opposed to massage.”

Another aspect of lomi lomi was offered by the Kahuna (healer), who might also include complete cleansing regimens for a client. This included purging, use of enemas, joint adjustments, medicinal herbs and salts—all to help one regain health, similar to what a naturopath in our Western culture might do.

As you can see, lomi lomi may encompass many things depending on the training of the practitioner, and it is not restricted to massage techniques.

Where does lomi lomi originate?

There seems to be some ideas and concepts that some practitioners or styles have passed on methods that are not traditional lomi lomi, as described to me by some of the Hawaiian healers. No one seems to completely understand where and how it really came about when I listen to the stories. Maybe some more modern practitioners may have created this style without fully understanding the more traditional Hawaiian healing lineage?

Makana Risser Chai did extensive studies at the Bishop Museum on Oahu and with many Hawaiian practitioners, hoped to find the routines and remedies of lomi lomi. She found very little information in English about lomi lomi and only a few current articles or books. Her book, Na Mo’olelo Lomilomi, is a compilation of the information she was able to locate, mostly discussing plant remedies.

It has been said the elders kept many things secret and, therefore, much of the indigenous healing methods may have been lost.

When I spoke with Makana Risser Chai, she shared how she noticed each lomi lomi practitioner is different. She once asked Kumu Kaipo Kaneakua how many various types of lomi lomi were out there and he said 

How many ‘ohana are there? Some have the person fully clothed; some half and some remove all the clothing. Some use lots of oil, others none. Some practitioners do lots of joint manipulation, others don’t. Others use forearm techniques, some hands, some only feet.

The atmosphere built by the practitioner, says Makana Risser Chai, is also different. She describes how some might have a serene and quiet room while others have people coming and going, laughing and joking. She said some sessions may be two hours or more, while others are 20 minutes—and yet, all lomi lomi is done with love (aloha) and prayer (pule). Traditional lomi lomi was done in the open, often in nature. It was a part of daily life, and while they shared stories, they might also share lomi lomi. This is what makes lomi lomi unique.

Through my research and studies, I have found a common denominator with lomi lomi: compassion. It is a heart-centered healing modality that provides for a deep healing space, some of which is beyond explanation in words. One must experience it to truly understand its power.

What do lomi lomi practitioners or instructors have to say?

In a personal interview with Lomi Kumu Dane Silva from the Big Island, he said, “Traditional lomi respects you for who you are and is a relationship with ‘ohana and nature.” He refers to contemporary lomi lomi as an integrative healing arts practice. He continues to state that “intention with movement and breath prepares a lomi practitioner to perform successfully, so that waves of energy will flow.”

Beautifully described by lomi lomi practitioner and instructor Karen Reifinger from Pennsylvania, “We can only hope to foster the one common thread at the core of Hawaiian healing: unconditional love and aloha, based upon the philosophy that all things seek harmony and love. Clients are empowered with self-responsibility to heal and change the many aspects that define the nature of our human existence. These old concepts are timeless, even in this new world.”

Penny Prior, one of my mentors who lives on Kauai, says lomi lomi to her is a lifestyle. She thinks one must live the principles of what they teach. The most significant thing to her is integrity for any practitioner or instructor. There is not power over someone, she states, and teachers and practitioners need to be very conscious. Lomi lomi encompasses everything, even the food you eat, intention, prayer (pule) and how you express your thoughts.

Nana Veary states in her book, Change We Must, that Hawaiians called upon their inner wisdom to make the most of nature’s offerings. The elders chanted and prayed, “Let that which is unknown become known.” Lomi lomi students might learn similar chants to use before they begin a session.

Kahuna Harry Uhane Jim brought joy and laughter upon our meeting. In his book, Wise Secrets of Aloha, he shares, “Now is the time to share aloha with humanity. Aloha means the Breath of God is in our presence. It is time to reveal the profound lomilomi secrets of the kahunas for personal and planetary peace.”

After conversations with several of these contributors, it seems we had a mutual vision to see the lomi lomi practitioners and teachers in the world come to honor our differences and similarities and respect the Hawaiian culture and traditions of lomi lomi. Whether we practice traditional or contemporary integrated styles, remember to share aloha.

Gloria Coppola, L.M.B.T., is a lomi lomi practitioner and continues to study this Hawaiian healing style. She has been a massage instructor for more than 22 years. Currently she is the director at Privai Academy in North Carolina. She also offers “The Rhythm of the Heart ™” an integrative lomi training, approved through the NCBTMB. 

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